In the market for a new car? Such a prospect is undoubtedly exciting – but it’s not without pitfalls. Car makers have become incredibly good at developing vehicles that suit particular lifestyles and budgets, but with so many models to choose from, it’s important to think carefully before parting with your hard-earned money.

Here we bring you eight key topics to mull over before you leave the showroom forecourt in a new set of wheels.

New or used?

There are clear pros and cons to buying both new and used cars. If you buy a new car you will be able to ensure its specifications meet your exact needs and tastes. You should also benefit from a warranty of at least three years – and you’ll be able to enjoy the kudos of having a shiny new car on your driveway or in your garage.

Used cars are, of course, a lot cheaper than new ones. You should also get some kind of warranty with a second hand car; some may even still be in warranty from their original purchase. Some marques have approved used car dealer networks, giving you added peace of mind. And with second hand cars, the initial big hit of depreciation has been absorbed by the original buyer.

Petrol or diesel?

The fuel type used by a prospective new car is definitely worth some thought. Some cars are only available in diesel, while others come in both petrol and diesel versions. Hybrids – which use fuel and electricity to run – are also an option, especially if you do a lot of slower urban driving.

Additionally, if you drive a lot each year, then a diesel may be more economical in the long run. Roughly speaking, if you drive less than 12,000 miles each year, a petrol unit will offer the best value for money.

How you'll run your car also matters. A petrol car is better if you make a lot of short journeys. Diesel units should be run at speed on a regular basis in order to ensure that the Diesel Particulate Filter does not get blocked – a problem that is costly to remedy.

Body styling

There are many more body styles available now than there were a couple of decades ago. Today, alongside saloons, hatchbacks and estates, you can choose from SUV-hatchback crossovers like the Qashqai, coupe-saloons such as the Mercedes Benz CLS and soft-top SUVs like the Range Rover Evoque.

Whichever body type you opt for, be sure to consider how many passengers you’ll carry on a regular basis and how much storage space you’ll need.

You may wish to give up a little ‘badge appeal’ in order to get more equipment for your money, for example by eschewing a BMW in favour of a Skoda.

Some cars are also better for certain tasks, like avoiding the London congestion charge – or towing.

Decide what matters most

Once you've settled on size and shape, think about what you’ll use the car for most. Consider access height if children will be getting in and out of the car often. Keen on DIY? Make sure the car has ample space and that the rear seats fold down.

If you’ve got an equipment must-have list, such as leather seats, satnav and parking assist, try to choose a trim level that includes them all. Adding options will quickly elevate the final price tag.

Make sure you understand fuel economy and emissions data before you purchase, and become familiar with each prospective car’s boot capacity, performance, road tax band(s) and standard equipment levels.

How will you pay for your car?

Paying cash isn’t as beneficial as it used to be; you're as likely to get a discount if you buy using some type of finance. Among the payment methods available are PCP and Hire Purchase deals and Personal Contract Hire. Be sure you understand the final cost of the car with all chosen options; the monthly figure can be deceptively low when compared to the final overall cost.

If your deal involves a balloon payment – a final sum much larger than the amounts repaid monthly – remember you won’t own the car until this is paid, so be sure you’re comfortable with this before proceeding.

Become familiar with the average trade-in price for your old car before deciding on a new purchase.

Understand the running costs

Monthly payments can be deceptively low – even for top end cars. Make sure you understand the final cost of running the vehicle. You don't want to end up resenting your car for its excessive fuel consumption or its hefty insurance premium.

How much CO2 your car emits will also affect how road tax is calculated.

And while stated fuel economy figures rarely match those of real-world driving, they are a very useful tool for comparing different models.

When considering a model, get a few insurance quotes so you have an idea about this significant annual outgoing.

Create a shortlist and organise test drives

Got your 'possibles list' down to two or three? It’s time to set up some test drives. Try to test a model that is as similar to the model you want as possible. Adding sports suspension or big alloy wheels, for instance, can dramatically alter the way a car feels when driven.

Get a second opinion. If you're buying a family car, take along your partner or your children for the test drive and see if they spot any problems. If you're going to be transporting things like golf clubs or prams in the car, it’s a good idea to take them along and see if they fit.

When driving the car, try out a few different road types – including a motorway and some small back roads. The dealer may even let you have the car over the weekend.

Don’t forget to haggle

Haggling isn’t an aspect of most purchases in the UK, but car buying is different. That said, not all dealers will be open to it. Call a few showrooms and see how flexible they are on price. A little effort here could save you hundreds.

With so many options and factors, it can seem a little daunting to consider them all. But if you do make the effort, you should end up with a car that meets all your practical requirements – while being pleasant to drive.